“Don’t you want somebody to love?” goes the chorus of Jefferson Airplane‘s best-known hit. Love was more than just an age-old crutch for pop songwriters in 1967, the year the Grace Slick–sung “Somebody to Love” was released; it had taken on a metaphysical dimension, and Jefferson Airplane were at the vanguard. The Summer of Love launched the band into the pop charts, but also into the eye of the psychedelic storm that was brewing in their native San Francisco. But even hippie anthems like “White Rabbit” couldn’t keep the eerie weirdness of the times at bay.
Paul Kantner was not only a founding member, guitarist, singer and songwriter for Jefferson Airplane, he was the group’s conceptual heart. Bringing along a love of literature and science fiction that seeped into the Airplane’s songs along with his fuzzed-out guitar tones, Kantner remained with the band, on and off, throughout its tumultuous self-reinvention as Jefferson Starship, taking a long break in the Eighties as Mickey Thomas steered the newly christened Starship into brief pop success. Starship still tinges the legacy of Jefferson Airplane, which partly explains why the band’s epochal Sixties work — as well as its uneven but sporadically brilliant output in the Seventies and beyond — finds itself curiously underrated today. But in their prime, Jefferson Airplane had plenty of songs to love.